PERTH city council has approved the demolition of the old Michelides tobacco factory, much to the dismay of heritage fans.
But lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi didn’t have much patience for their campaign to save the factory, saying if they loved old buildings they should buy them.
The factory’s owner Graham Hardie wants to knock over its three buildings–between 70 and 90 years old–to make way for a new development he hasn’t yet revealed. His heritage consultant says they’re falling apart, unsafe and full of squatters.
Last year the state’s heritage council pushed for the factory to be protected and PCC staff initially agreed.
Following Mr Hardie’s presentation at a committee meeting most councillors voted against its listing and that prompted heritage minister Albert Jacobs to ignore the heritage council. Councillors were lobbied hard in the lead-up to Tuesday’s demolition decision, some receiving 150 emails. Many were calling for the facade to be incorporated into the new design.
Cr James Limnios said the applicant’s heritage report made it clear there was no heritage value, so he was in favour of demolition.
“I think it’s appalling that we can sit here and be badgered into making a decision against what is legal for this person,” he said, refusing to budge under the pressure.
He took aim at the building’s fans for “sitting back and making decisions with other people’s money‚“ and he said if someone died in the unsafe building the council would be hauled over the coals.
Reece Harley was the only councillor to argue against complete demolition, saying the art deco facade adds to the streetscape.
“The public should direct their anger towards the minister for his evident failure to protect a significant building which the Heritage Council itself described as a prominent landmark and a rare example of its architectural style worthy of retention,” Cr Harley said.
Cr Harley, the youngest member at 27, said they were making the same mistake as previous generations who’d bulldozed so much of Perth’s history.
Ms Scaffidi pointed out “the most active proponents [against demolition] have been a younger demographic‚“ without a financial stake in it.
“It’s all well and good to put these ideas forward if you’re not footing the bill.” She suggested that if groups like the Art Deco society wanted to keep these buildings they should pool their cash and buy them.
Dallas Robertson, who’d organised the social media campaign to save the building, described that as ‚“a ludicrous argument”.
“Just because we don’t have the money to do it doesn’t mean we can’t have an opinion.”
Federal Perth MP Alannah MacTiernan also weighed in, writing to all councillors arguing against complete demolition, as did the Art Deco Society of WA, state heritage shadow minister Margaret Quirk, and the Art Deco Society of Antwerp.
Ms Scaffidi said the building only had social importance, which could be recorded in photos and stories.
For now the site will be turned into a park and a storage and access site for the abandoned Varga nightclub next door, which is also owned by Mr Hardie and soon to be redeveloped.
Scaffidi: If you want it, buy it
ART DECO Society WA president Vyonne Geneve says “it is a sad day for heritage that the PCC has ignored the expert advice of the State Heritage Office, the National Trust of WA, and the Art Deco Society of WA.
“The suggestion that the society should purchase the former Michelides buillding is conveniently ignoring the fact that it is the responsibility of the city and its elected members to protect Perth’s dwindling number of heritage buildings.
“Although the society has neither the advantages of influential developers nor the means to purchase buildings in the City of Perth, it certainly does have the credentials and the right to comment on the significance of Art Deco buildings, particularly when they come under threat.”
She wants heritage minister Albert Jacobs to step in and reverse his decision not to support the listing of the building.
by DAVID BELL